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Natural Born Killer.1

JB had been inviting me to go hunting with him for years.  I always declined.  Then one day I said OK I’d come along but wouldn’t actually shoot anything.  Tell anyone around here, in liberal Oranjezicht, Cape Town, that you’re going hunting and you’ll get cut off, ostracised, disfellowshipped.  It’s fine if you spread that you’re going hunting around Bellville; you’d even be looked up to there.  But not here.  People can get really liberal in Oranjezicht, especially when the South-Easter howls.  They then get so liberal you’d think you’re in Hout Bay.  There are things the Oranjezicht collective considers verboten, and shooting animals is high on the list.

Yet, I would be going hunting with JB, not to shoot you understand, just to provide company.  Then one day a question arose within me.  Why go on a hunting trip if you’re not actually going to hunt?  What’s the point?  The rationalisation came to me one fine moment a few days later: shooting your own meat is actually a noble thing.  As a meat-eater, by hunting myself, I’d be relieving abattoir workers of the stain of killing for me so that I can eat meat.2  So, if you’re a vegetarian, speak out.  If not, hold it.  And if you’re a vegetarian who wears leather subsidised by meat-eaters, hold it too.

“Now, to go hunting, you’ve got to look the part”, JB instructed.  “Dress so that you meld into the veld.  The buck mustn’t spot from a mile away that here’s a liberal from Cape Town trying to shoot it.  Equip yourself, get the gear.  Get khaki.”   So I went to Cape Union Mart and got gear to make JB proud.  JB was to lend me one of his rifles, a .270, and I was set.  One wintry August morning we set off before dawn to a game farm in the Hofmeyr -Molteno district in the Great Karoo; three men, a shaky liberal and a dog in a 4*4.

Karoo hunting grounds

Karoo hunting grounds

We arrived at the farm in the early evening.  Nine burly, Afrikaner, real men and an effete Oranjezicht crypto-liberal assembled for the hunt in the farm’s voorkamer, a veritable hunting lodge.  Stuffed animals with horns hung from the walls, a zebra skin mat adorned the floor, a fire raged in a corner and the men took drinks – no, drank – on easy chairs.  This was a man’s terrain.  You smelt “male here”.  The testosterone wafted so thick you could hack it with an axe and build a fort with it.  To step into that voorkamer was to rise to manhood.  Swearing was not only gratuitous but also de rigeur, an emblematic shibboleth of this circle that knew itself well.  And did they swear!  Unimaginative, but effective swearing.  Fok was the most common adjective, noun and verb.  Kak made cameo appearances as elegant speech variation.  To use moer was hypercorrect speech.3  Continual joking, put-on seriousness and laughter abounded.  Further signs of virility stood out like a pole.  The way they held their drinks, the way they stoked the fire – just right and macho, you know – the confidence with which they declaimed and strutted, their rifle-upright bearing, all signalled: ‘Real man, Hunter here!’  What must they have thought of this Cape Town metrosexual in their midst?

My survival strategy among this lot was to (i) project heavily onto JB and (ii) say as little as possible.4  Both proved impractical as (i) everyone projected onto JB, whereas (ii) is impossible for the usual irrepressible reasons .  Plan B was the dangerous strategy of throwing caution to the wind by ingratiating oneself and dropping the odd fok oneself, hoping to get it right.  You laugh, but try cracking this social code as a pseudo-liberal outsider.  Not that this was pure cavemanhood, mind you.  Reflections of a higher life lived elsewhere included fine wines – even 10y old Pinot Noir – boutique cheeses and other gourmandises set out for consumption.  But one felt things were deliberately dumbed-down in a yearning for a care-free adolescence long lost, before bills, mortgages, responsibility, relationships and seriousness of spirit twisted us into the people we’ve now become.

Hunting Lodge

Hunting Lodge

The next morning at dawn we set out on game trucks to the shooting range to sight the rifles.  This was the business end of the trip.  Gone was the jocularity of the previous night.  Everyone was earnest, clenched, you could read it on their faces as you would on a palimpsest.  No nonsense now.  An inner tension brewed within me.  JB sensed this and came over to placate me.  Nice touch.  The shooting range master gave me the all-clear and I had two shots at a target at 100m.  Everyone shot.  My first bullet was a little off target.  They adjusted my gun.  The next one was perfect.  For this I had practised on JB’s farm a few Sundays before then.  Rifles set, we were given a safety talk by the hunt master, wished luck and soon thereafter nine real men and an ex-liberal set out to the veld to hunt.

Sighting the Rifles

Sighting the Rifles

We were dropped off one by one at strategic places around the vast veld, far from each other.  Each hunter was instructed to shoot in a particular range and direction so as not to accidentally shoot people hunting elsewhere.  I was taken to a shrub next to some mountains and dropped off.  As this was my first time, they dropped off a professional hunter (PH) with me.  We settled in under a bush, set up the rifle and lay there dead still, the two of us in the cold veld.5  A nasty little wind blew which gave me chilblains for the first time in years.

An hour or so later a small herd of springbuck approached.  “Get ready, get your rifle ready”, whispered the PH.  “Move over slowly, quietly…”  I aimed. The buck was 50m away, right in my line of sight.  But by the time I had cocked my rifle the buck spotted us and fled, the whole troop fled.  Drat.  Another hour of waiting.  And then two blesbuck came into our field of vision, quite far away.  I trained my eye on the rifle scope.  “Take aim”, said the PH.  “Shoot, shoot now!”  I shot.  One of the buck jack-knifed away.  The other dropped instantly into the grass. We couldn’t see it so went looking for it.  We found it – I had shot it right through the head at a distance of 230m.  The PH congratulated me and performed the ritual of anointing me as a hunter.  Quite a moment.

Hunting Spot

Hunting Spot

In the afternoon the PH had to help out elsewhere so I was left on my own.  Two hours later I spotted a herd of red hartebeest in the mountains, aimed at one and let fly.  The herd ran away, but one dropped.  Shot instantaneously through the heart, again at 230m, no suffering.  Dangerous things, these rifles!

I returned to the lodge that evening to an incredulous group of hunters.  Word had spread of my prowess.  I am, apparently, what’s called a ‘natural’.6  You get them in every field.  What I had achieved on my first hunting day, getting a head and a heart shot at over 200m by firing only two bullets, was like someone hitting a hole-in-one on their first visit to a golf course.  One of the men suggested I quit while ahead and never come hunting again, ever.  Nine men and a neo-conservative celebrated the day in that lodge which was rapidly acquiring an air of sophistication to my eyes, stuffed animals and all.  I was inducted officially as a hunter and had to down a raw piece of liver from one of the animals I had shot, luckily washed down with some good Pinot Noir.  Confidence pulsed through me.  William Tell I am, I thought.  Who wants to pose with an apple on their head for me at 200m tomorrow?  Who?  But I was to understand the fuss the next day when I shot a black wildebeest after a difficult day in the veld.  That wasn’t so neat and I’m not talking about it.

Black wildebeest

Black wildebeest

So, I’ve taken the first steps to becoming a hunter.  There’s talk of what rifle to get (.270 or 30.06?), how much to spend, where to practice, where to hunt etc.  JB is my man, he’s sorting me out, as are others.  Hunters love the veld, they love the animals, they’re at the forefront of conservation and will be there for the animals long after the last liberal has stopped pontificating.

In the meanwhile, I have excellent game meat in my freezer, and a lot of biltong.7  You should try some.  The liberals of Oranjezicht just love it.

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Notes:

  1. My original title was Big Game Hunter or Last of the Big Game Hunters or something like that.  But then I showed it to Graeme Comrie, a scriptwriter etc. who thought a little and came up with this.  Punchier, he said.  Get their goats, he said.
  2.  Abattoir, from the French word abattre, literarily to knock down.
  3. fok = Afrikaans for fuc_k_
    kak = Afrikaans for shi_t-.
    moer = extremely difficult to translate Afrikaans word.
    A good if a not quite exact English translation of an Afrikaans phrase containing moer is: “Gaan vlieg in jou moer in” English “Go fly into your mother”.  Also from http://www.saffagator.com/list-of-south-african-slang-words:
    “moer toe” – stuffed up or destroyed (e.g. my car is “moer toe”)
  4. I often find people use psychological projection incorrectly.  Psychological projection was conceptualized by Sigmund Freud in the 1890s as a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world [Wikipedia].  So for example, if X thinks he has a drinking problem, X accuses Y of having a drinking problem.  This makes X feel good on two counts (i) X is not alone in the world,  and (ii) X has parked his problem (projected) onto Y, disassociating himself from it, splitting the bad off from himself and only accepting the good within him.   A bad, bad thing, requiring extensive therapy to fix.
  5. The hunting technique was basically voorsit (Afrik.), where you sit quietly and wait for the game to come to you, instead of walk-and-stalk where you go after the game on foot yourself.  Both are less fun than shooting off a pick-up truck or even a helicopter.  Of course, if game doesn’t come to you there are ways of ambush… but let’s not mention that…
  6. That goes only for hunting of course, and definitely not for skiing.  I remember still groping around a beginner’s ski slope at a Swiss resort after a week of exhausting two instructors per day.  All sore and uncoordinated, I was sworn at in every European language imaginable by irate skiers I’d still be bumping into.  A fellow beginner who started at exactly the same time as I was skiing down from 3000m at the end of the week, no problem.
  7. Biltong is a South Africa specialty – it’s a variety of cured meat eaten by carnivorous conservatives and liberals alike.
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